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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Tribal Marks: An Identity, Spiritual or Beautification?

Tribal marks are a crucial part of the Nigerian culture

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Hamzat Ibrahim Abaga
Hamzat Ibrahim Abaga
Hamzat Ibrahim Abaga is a graduate of Mass Communication and aspiring investigative journalist.

NIGERIA: For some people, tribal marks are a form of identification while for some, marks can be identified as part of religious practices and healing purposes. Tribal marks are also seen as an act of maintaining a long time cultural lineage coupled with history and heritage.

Tribal marks are a crucial part of the Nigerian culture. Yoruba land is one of the cradles of this practice. The significance of these marks are different for different tribes. Besides their physical appearance, these tribes can be recognized by their facial markings.

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Before the coming and adoption of western culture, every Nigerian tribe had its own separate ways of facial identification. The tribal marks covered their faces and other parts of their body. Usually, the marks are peculiar to Nupe, Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa among other tribes.

Nupe tribal mark

Nupe tribal marks are drawn with different styles of curves on the face. One of the most interesting styles is one vertical strip on both cheeks. The tribal marks are in relation to the maintenance of the tribe’s culture and age-long tradition. It also speaks of someone’s or the tribe’s prestige and as a form of identification and as well serves spiritual purposes.

Yoruba tribal mark

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In Yoruba, there are different versions of tribal marks peculiar to different states and cities of the Yoruba kingdom. Facial marks determine what rights the person has to contribute to the well-being of the clan such as leadership.

Pele: this is a form of tribal marks among Yoruba-speaking entities peculiar to the Ife people alone. The mark can also be attributed to all Yoruba kingdoms as virtually every Yoruba-speaking person can wear the mark. 

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Pele is done by drawing three long vertical lines on both sides of their cheeks. It also have variations named Pele Ijebu and Pele Ijesha. Pele Ijebu, and Pele Ijesha, which are unique to Ijebu and Ijesha natives respectively

There is also the Owu form of tribal mark common among the people of Abeokuta. The Owu marks come in three vertical forms and three horizontal lines.

They also have Gombo and Abaja tribal marks all in different forms.

Igbo tribal mark

Some people believe that tribal marks are not peculiar to Igbo culture. However, some people from this part of the country have an incision on their faces which is not considered as a tribal mark but a ritual deters for every child with a spiritual problem, called ‘ogbanje’. An ọgbanje is a term for what was thought to be an evil spirit that would bring misfortune to the family.

The common tribal mark of Igbo is known as Ichi. Most of the Igbo tribal marks are for beauty, identification, and healing purposes. 

Government’s take on eradicating tribal marks

According to the 2003 Child Rights Act, section 24 (1) stated that in any condition “no person shall tattoo or make a skin mark to be made on any child”. 

Subsection (2) further stated that anyone who makes a tattoo or mark on a child has committed an offense under the Child Right Law, capable of conviction to a fine of 5,000 nairas or imprisonment of not less than one month.

However, tribal marks are gradually disappearing in Nigeria society as civilization is robbing them of their long-age identity. And calling for the prohibition of tribal marks has also contributed to its gradual disappearance. 

Also, a bill seeking for the prohibition of the tribal mark in Nigeria was one certain time sponsored by the then member of the senate from Kogi state, Senator Dino Melayi, this has also contributed to and cripple the activities of tribal marks.

Effect and stigmatization of tribal marks

Tribal marks oftentimes subject a child to discrimination among their peer group. 

It also has psychological, emotional, and social problems among people with the marks and this are capable of costing them their lives.

If it is done for spiritual or healing-related reasons, scars might be left in the face which is capable of disfiguring the face of the affected person. Along with this, a person has a higher chance of contracting various diseases like HIV, Tetanus, Hepatitis B and C, Keloids etc.


Conclusively, the need to eradicate the ugly trend among the Nigerian culture is needful and effort must be intensified to ensure total examination. 

This will only be possible with the help of traditional rulers, government agencies in relation to human and child rights, law, media agencies, non-governmental organizations, and individuals to put their heads together in tackling the menace. 

Also Read: Indigenous Dance Forms in Nupe Culture


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